Once upon a time I said I would rather stick pins in my eyes than go to any of the Costas. In fact I said it on a number of occasions and I meant it.
Which is why I found myself in Dublin airport eating a lot of humble pie. To be fair to me though I was really going to Barcelona for a few days to take a look around, possibly visit an Agent I have there and just get a feel for the place a lot of people rave about. Friends were visiting Salou on the Costa Daurada the day I was planning to leave Barcelona and so I thought Id stay on a couple of extra days, take a wander down there before flying home. It helped that I was flying back from Reus so staying near Salou was the easiest way to get the early morning flight anyway.
Booking the flights was one of those weird experiences where the bus from Belfast to Dublin cost more than the flight from Dublin to Barcelona and from Reus to Belfast was less than the taxi from Belfast airport to home. In fact it was more expensive to ship my bag back than me. If it hadn’t been for needing checked luggage (I wouldn’t wish me in the same clothes for 8 days on anyone), the entire set of air fares would have been around 30 quid.
The flight out was with Ryanair. I was assured I would be arriving somewhere in Spain, probably not that close to Barcelona. I hadn’t flown Ryanair in years, the last time was quite early on in the Ryanair story (1997) I think when I took a flight from Dublin to London as part of an onward trip to Moscow. At the time I was doing a lot of business class flying so the cattle stampede for seats and people fighting over emergency exit seats was completely new to me.
I do like Ryanair though, for the cheap prices you have to understand that that’s what you are getting. I met a group of girls in Rome who were all newly postgrads who had flown all over europe thanks to Ryanair. Their story was it was cheaper to jump to a plane to some ex-communist Eastern European country for the weekend with hand baggage and then go on the tear than it was to go out on the town in Dublin. They had a point and they had travelled more than most people.
I also like Michael O’Leary, I went to a business conference quite a few years ago where he was the keynote speaker and he was thoroughly entertaining and made a lot of very interesting points. Still if they lose my bag or I end up in France or Morocco with a long bus journey to my hostel, I wont be pleased.
Yes I did say hostel. Id tried a few hotels but as it was a late notice booking most of the good ones were already full, so I picked the best of the rest of the hostels and although it was a bit out on the subway, it made up for it in ratings. Of course pulling a couple of wheeled bags just using the map on the hostel website meant that the decision not to get a cab from the metro station wasn’t the best way to start a trip. I’m always wary of the cab to the hotel thing since I did it in London once. I arrived at a new hotel and although I knew where I had to go was within reasonable distance it was completely chucking it down with rain, I hadn’t a coat and didn’t want to end up soaked through meeting clients for the first time. I hailed a cab at the hotel front door and gave him the address. He said nothing drove down the street, turned right, turned right again, went 100 yards and then stopped. ‘Whats the problem?’ ‘We’re here’. If Id walked out the hotel back entrance I would have been directly facing the office I had the meeting in. I paid the driver and decided not to add that particular receipt to my expenses. Just in case it was ever queried Id rather lose the money than look like a dick for taking a cab 100 yards. The hostel map said it was about the same distance… …except a few blocks were missing from the map.
Arriving in the dark, tired and hungry I thought Id just stay in the hostel for the evening and get something to eat locally. Id been brushing up on my spanish so thought it a good opportunity to go out to somewhere local and see what happens. What happened was there was nowhere local, I couldn’t be arsed going into the city on a Saturday night (sad I know) so cereal bars and water were on the menu in the hostel common room.
A common room where I was the only sad character sitting in on a Saturday night when the whole of Barcelona beckoned.
Still I was here to work and I had a ticket for the Barcelona game the following evening and the day after that I was up for a ridiculous o’clock trip to France and Andorra, so discretion was the better part of valour.
I had a single room for the rest of my stay but the first night I was sharing a dorm room with a load of Chinese post grad students who had just driven 12 hours down from France. They were keen photographers so we spent a couple of hours chatting about photography.
I had always envisioned my reasons for standing in Placa de Catalunya, Barcelona just before 7am to be related to a hell of a good night out. Being up at the crack of dawn to make sure I got a breakfast at the hostel would never have factored in my top 10 reasons.
Also high on the list was the opportunity to walk round the city early in the morning without fear of being robbed. In most places Ive been people tell you to be wary of certain areas and you hear loads of tales of pickpockets and robbery etc but almost everyone I know who has come to Barcelona has a story of either being robbed or seeing someone being robbed. That’s probably no coincidence and walking around alone with a camera was just setting me up as a target. I wanted a few photos on the metro but decided to leave these until my second day when I needed to get the metro at 6am when it opened. If anyone was about to rob me at that time in the morning, they probably deserved their ill gotten gains.
I wandered round La Rambla and the old town for a good 4-5 hours and saw nothing of this well documented crime wave and I began to think that, like a lot of places in the world, Barcelona was getting a bit of a bum rap. I have friends who have been pickpocketed in London, Paris, Rome, Berlin on the metros there and Ive seen incidents in all those places. Ive been to big football games and know it goes on there as well so again it might be a bit overplayed.
Saying that though I was wandering around early on a Sunday morning where any half decent thief worth their salt would be counting their ill gotten gains from robbing and pickpocketing the drunk tourists they found wandering the streets in the early hours after the Saturday night before.
Wandering down around the port area there were a lot of ill looking people and stag/hen night parties looking like death warmed up. It was after lunchtime so I thought Id sit in a cafe in Port Vell, have coffee and a sandwich and watch the world go by.
The world indeed was going by but the most interesting thing apart from dodging getting run over by Segway tourists was watching the street hawkers. Now I probably wouldn’t be far from the truth by saying they were either illegal immigrants or selling knock off goods or both. What makes me draw this conclusion was that they had say sunglasses or handbags laid out on large white sheets sitting on the public promenade. Each of the goods was individually fastened to the white sheet which looked a bit odd until the signal went up. There were groups of about 4 or 5 of these guys with one or two of their mates wandering around the area selling these bird call whistle things. When they all cheeped up at the same time the guys with the white sheets would pull the strings attached to the four corners of their white sheet and within seconds the whole lot would be in one big ball thrown over their shoulder and heading off into the sunset. These group cheeps would coincidently occur at the same time as a passing police patrol or anyone with an official looking uniform.
You have to admire the organisation.
I wandered back up through the old town and found the sunday antiques and collectibles fair in the Placa Reial. I managed to find a set of coins from the 1982 World Cup era so could’nt help myself what with the whole Gerry Armstong/Arconada goal thing! I got the impression that I was either in the most dangerous or the safest place in Barcelona right now. There must have been about 30 cops in this small town square, including ones on scooters who were constantly on the move shouting at people, chasing people off and generally looking menacing. Note to self to double tie the zips on the backpack on the way back to the hostel.
By late afternoon I had nurtured the growing blisters on my feet enough for one day, the place was starting to come alive now and La Rambla was thronging with people but a storm was approaching, the place was clouding over and I had a seat with my name on it at the Nou Camp later on in the evening. I couldn’t go straight there as that would be madness with all this equipment and valuables so back to the hostel to divest my person of everything except my clothing, passport, 20 euro and return metro ticket. Oh and a small pocket video camera, and a cheap watch.
I was surprised I had managed to get a ticket, Barcelona had just won the league and this was the night they were being presented with the trophy on the pitch. I thought the place would have been packed to the rafters. I would probably miss most of the celebrations as the last metro back to my hostel was about 25 mins after the game finished and it was a good 15 min walk back to the metro station from the ground.
Getting back to the hostel, the skies opened and I have never been so glad to remember to bring waterproofs.
The journey to the stadium was one of those special sports occasions, just following the flow of thousands and thousands of people, trusting that they know the way and knowing that you have done the same journey to many stadia for many events throughout the world. Tonight was going to be one of those special nights, Camp Nou on the night Barcelona get the trophy…
…and then the heavens opened again.
Guess where my seat is?
Yes right there beneath the drain spout.
I waited until kickoff before taking my seat but within 20 mins I was soaked right through. Thankfully in Spain they don’t have the same health and safety culture as in the UK, either that or they felt sorry for me and I was allowed to stand at the top of the stairs and crouch down and watch the game. The place looked empty although to be fair it holds 90 thousand and with 45 thousand there it was technically half full or soaked to the skin, half empty. Well over half the seats are uncovered so the majority of the 45k were sheltering somewhere else so the stadium looked deserted at times.
I gave myself to halftime to endure it but didn’t want to stand soaked through in the cold all night with such a heavy schedule in the next couple of days. Tomorrow morning I was on a 7am coach to France and then Andorra.
Just before halftime the rain stopped and the temperature rose a bit to stop me shivering. I waited out the rest of the game but it wasn’t the greatest experience of my life and even though Barcelona scored 3 times that tiki-taka football, whilst elegant, doesn’t half bore the wet arse off the spectators.
I made it to the end of the game and got to watch part of the celebrations before squelching my way back to the metro station. Waiting for the train you could hear the fireworks going off around the stadium so at least the crowd were getting their money worth.
The fireworks were also going off in the station, as the train left the station a gang of tough looking people walked down the carriage unzipping as many rucksacks, coat pockets, purses as they could get their hands on. On the crowded train anyone challenging them was met by the whole gang descending. One of those times you don’t actually believe what you are seeing but as with the majority of people worldwide a crowd of people dressed in FC Barcelona shirts also descended and forced the gang off the train at the next stop. Inevitably some of the people had been robbed as no doubt there were other people than the rough guys who had received the contents of the rucksacks/pockets/purses and already made their way off the train long before the commotion started.
So there you go, add me to the list of people who have seen people being robbed in Barcelona.
Quick note to self to try not to be a victim tomorrow on the way back from the trip whilst tired.